Flickr, Dplanet::

A lot of us are in the habit of buying lunch out each day. I don't mean we're all enjoying three-course lunches with wine - for most people, it's just a sandwich and maybe a bag of chips and a drink from the nearest store.

The problem is, when you're sinking a few dollars on lunch five days a week, every week, the cost soon adds up. Buying a sandwich out is probably costing you around $3-$6 a pop; making that same sandwich as home would likely cost about a third of what it does in the store, around $1-$2.

  • Sandwiches: There are loads of different types of bread to try. Pitas, tortilla wraps and bagels all transport well - and using different breads will encourage you to vary the fillings.
  • Salads: Instead of a sandwich, why not make a big salad for lunch? Include some lean protein (like cold chicken, boiled egg, tuna or prawns) and some carbohydrate (pasta, rice or couscous work in many salads, or just take a few crackers to eat on the side).
  • Leftovers: An incredibly simple way to make lunch with next to no effort is to cook a bit extra at your evening meal the night before and pop it in an air-tight box. I'm very partial to cold stir-fry; if you've got access to a microwave at work, you'll have even more options. (If you're reheating rice, make sure it's been kept completely chilled until you reheat it.)
  • Extras: Try to include a piece of fruit or a handful of veggie sticks with lunch - too many of us don't eat any fruit or vegetables during the workday. You might also want to throw in a treat like a cookie or a small bag of chips. Look out for multibags of treat sized portions - far cheaper than buying candy bars and chips from the vending machine at work.

If you're stuck for packed lunch ideas, have a search on Google - there are hundreds of sites packed with great suggestions. You can also buy books of packed lunch recipes, though these tend to be aimed at parents making lunches for their kids.

Do you buy lunch out? Is it really a convenience or treat - or just a habit? Could you save $2 or more a day (that's $10 a week, almost $500 in a full working year) by taking a packed lunch to work?